How ‘King Rat’ targeted family members of republicans

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The police in the north of Ireland provided unionist paramilitary kingpin Billy Wright with information to help his murder gang target Catholics, one of his former associates has admitted.

Former UVF paramilitary Laurence Maguire was speaking to a BBC Spotlight documentary about the conflict.

The programme also quoted two senior figures in the British Crown Forces who confirmed Billy Wright, the UVF leader in mid-Ulster, was an agent working for both the RUC police and the British Army.

About half the gang’s victims are thought to have had connections to the IRA or Sinn Féin, the others were uninvolved Catholics.

Maguire said Billy Wright, known as ‘King Rat’, told him intelligence about ‘targets’ was coming from police working with him. He was nearby in a car when some meetings between Wright and police took place “up alleyways”.

Billy Wright’s predecessor as UVF leader in mid-Ulster, former British soldier Robin Jackson, was also named in the programme as a state agent.

Both men were arrested over the murder of two brothers, Gerard and Rory Cairns, at Bleary, near Portadown, in 1993.

While the Cairns family always believed that Jackson and Wright had planned the killing it was reported at the time as a random sectarian murder.

The men were singled out because their cousin, Sheena Campbell, was a Sinn Féin activist who was killed by the UVF in Belfast the same year.

Maguire told the programme the pair had first targeted the brothers in 1992. He admitted that they actually intended to kill a third brother, 14-year-old Liam, so that every male in the house would have been murdered.

When no-one was charged, the Cairns family complained to the Police Ombudsman - at the time Nuala O’Loan - accusing the two UVF men of “being protected” by Britain.

Mrs O’Loan says the fresh details were “shocking” and it would have been the basis, had she still been ombudsman, to reopen the case.

Sheila Cairns feared she would never see a resolution. “While I’m on earth I will never get peace,” she said. “Nothing will ever bring me closure because it will never bring Gerard and Rory back.”

FOX FAMILY

Maguire also revealed another victim, Theresa Fox, died trying to fight off the loyalist gunmen who attacked her in her County Tyrone home.

Charles and Theresa Fox, aged 63 and 53, were shot dead by the UVF at their home near Moy in September 1992. The bodies of the couple, who had six children, were discovered by two of their daughters the day after they were murdered.

Their daughter Bernie McKearney’s husband Kevin, along with his uncle John, had been shot dead by the same UVF gang in their butcher’s shop just eight months earlier.

Maguire, who was convicted in connection with the double murder, said that Mrs Fox died trying to fend her attackers off with a broom.

“She tried to run for the gun,” he told the BBC.

An autopsy showed Mrs Fox’s jaw was broke with the butt of a rifle and she then was shot dead in the kitchen. Her husband was shot as he ran at his wife’s killers.

The Mid Ulster UVF claimed they were targeting the couple’s son Paddy Fox, a republican was in prison at the time, but the leadership of the UVF knew that was false.

Maguire said Wright’s gang were purposely attacking family members of known republicans.

Speaking after the latest horrific revelations, Sinn Féin representative Linda Dillon said it had come as no surprise to hear Billy Wright was an agent working for British state agencies.

“The families of the victims of Wright and his gang are entitled to the truth about the depths of this collusion,” she said.

“There has already been too much delay and too many efforts to cover up the truth around collusion. Collusion was a key instrument of Britain’s dirty war in Ireland.

“I will be raising the issue with the PSNI Chief Constable and the Police Ombudsman.”

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